Open Windows

Inventive Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, who was behind the ingenious genre-benders “Timecrimes” and “Extraterrestrial,” brings forth his first thriller shot in the English language, and mind you he’s got some celebrities on board.

Elijah Wood continues to waltz through different genres after the “Lord of the Rings,” and Sasha Grey, who was previously deployed in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience,” continues her foray into mainstream cinema.

It all begins like a sweet homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (even the film’s title seems like an allusion), when we meet he hapless and naïve Nick Chambers, who has traveled down to Austin to meet up with his favorite actress, Jill Goddard (Grey). Jill is the star of a B-movie horror series, which is a huge Internet sensation and brings big bucks to its producers. Nick is a shy but capable nerd who runs one of her fan sites on the web. Nick has supposedly won the “best fan site” contest and his reward is to have dinner with the actress. He sits in his high-rise hotel room watching from his laptop the live-stream press conference of the launch of her latest flick as he anticipates the promised get-together.
Nick’s laptop is also used as a point-of-view shot for the viewers. On it, we watch several things happening at the same time through “open” and running windows on the screen. One must be careful in watching the simultaneous frames to catch all the specific details that move the plotting. Then suddenly Nick gets a phone call from an unidentified caller who tells him that the date has been canceled because Jill isn’t feeling too well. But who really is the caller, and was there ever a contest to begin with?

The man identifies himself as Chord (Neil Maskell), and turns out to be a great hacker, taking remote control of every possible electronic device he can — mobile phones, public cameras, phone lines, websites, etc. He slowly manipulates Nick into a cruel cat-and-mouse game in which Nick finds himself as the instrument in ruining Jill’s life by invading her privacy and causing her possible public humiliation. Chord is a cunning madman who has a personal grudge against Jill, and his desire to bring her down knows no bounds.

At its heart, “Open Windows” is a savvy story about the risk of invasion of privacy by modern technology at the hands of merciless individuals. At this point, the situation Jill will find herself in happens to be a great metaphor for the recent incident regarding the distribution of Jennifer Lawrence’s personal photos on the web.

While director Vigalondo makes a point about the possible perils of digital technology, he and his crew make great use of the possibilities technology presents through the cinematic narration of the film. We find ourselves looking through the interchanging or simultaneous lenses of a mobile phone or several mobile phones, security cameras, hand-held digital cameras and laptop cameras in order to follow the story. This integrated use of different types of lenses allows the viewer to fully understand how the tentacles of surveillance can reach anywhere anytime, and that most probably we will never have adequate protection against it.

By the midpoint of the second act, the plot gears into an unexpected direction, and the addition of a trio of hackers transforms the dynamics of the cat-and-mouse game.

But the real surprise of the film comes at the end, in quite an implausible form, nevertheless adding a new level of paranoia and suspense to the story.

Vigalondo knows exactly how to keep his audience on the edge and is not afraid to march into the absurd and surreal to maintain the interest of the audience. All things aside, this might not be the most glamorous of thrillers, but it has a lot of gumption and tightly knit editing that raises the adrenaline level deemed necessary by the genre. This is an example of virtuoso movie craftsmanship, and in the meantime, it avoids taking itself too seriously, which makes some plot holes forgivable and dismissible.

Elijah Wood offers a solid performance throughout the film and manages to carry the story on his shoulders. It’s not such an easy task considering that two-thirds of the screen time is solely inhabited by him and the voice of Chord.

“Open Windows” is an above-average film that will satisfy those craving for some gritty suspense.